My husband and our two daughters, Susannah and Rachael, were sitting expectantly at the table as I dished up an unfamiliar recipe. So nervous I could barely eat mine, I wondered what they were going to make of it… and of my secret. I didn’t have to wait long. ‘Mum, this is gorgeous, what is it?’, the girls asked. I took a deep breath: ‘It’s diet cola chicken… It’s a recipe I got at my Slimming World group.’ I watched my family’s faces as the penny dropped, then they all leapt up to hug me. Tears welled in my eyes. I knew how worried they’d been about my weight, and now I’d found the courage to do something about it.
My husband, Owen, and I met in the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland when we were 13, where I played the flugelhorn. We started dating when I was 19 and a size 16 and, as well as performing, we spent our free time eating out. Over time, I gained weight, and when we got married four years later, I was a size 18-20. As we settled into married life, I’d cook dinners of lasagne or steak Diane, using sauces from jars, followed by treacle sponge and custard. And, when my job as a music instructor meant staying after school for band rehearsals, I’d pick up a takeaway burger or pizza on my way home, then have a packet of chocolate biscuits for dessert.
As the years passed, I got bigger and, although I never told anyone how I felt, I became more and more self-conscious.
As a result of pre-eclampsia our daughter, Susannah, was born 10 weeks early. After long days spent in the hospital worrying about our baby, recovering from a caesarean and managing my high blood pressure, I sought comfort in Mum’s cooking and ate whatever was easiest until we were able to bring Susannah home.
Now reliant on ready meals, I’d gone up a couple of clothes sizes by the time Rachael came along. While I always cooked healthy meals for my girls, I couldn’t seem to find time to do the same for myself. Once they were in bed, I’d order a takeaway or snack on buttered toast. Every year, in the lead up to our family holiday, I’d go on a crash diet, cutting out carbs, sweets and biscuits. I’d lose a couple of stone and would feel amazing – then, within weeks, I’d be heavier than before.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and, later, high cholesterol. My mum had undergone heart surgery when the girls were little, then, in 2006, Dad passed away after having a series of strokes. Terrified I might be heading in a similar direction, I soothed my fears by comfort eating. But while a bag of sweets would give me a temporary boost, afterwards I’d feel annoyed with myself because I knew my weight was getting in the way of me living my life. Walking between classrooms at school, a red-hot sensation in my knees would stop me in my tracks. And whenever I spent too long on my feet, my knees and ankles would swell up, leaving me in agony.
Just like I always had, I confided in Mum, who never criticised or lectured me. Putting her hand on mine, she said gently: ‘Mary, I just want you to be happy.’ At one point, she even joined a Slimming World group in the hope I’d go along with her, but I just wasn’t ready to accept help. When she passed away in 2015, I was heartbroken, facing a future without my best friend.
By now, Susannah and Rachael were at university, and while Owen filled his time cycling, going to the gym and playing in his band, I suddenly had a huge void in my life. I’d drifted away from playing in bands years before and, worried that I might not find a uniform to fit me, I’d always turned down any requests to go back. I felt like my purpose in life had been taken from me. Without Mum to confide in, I’d never felt so low, and the pains in my knees were now so severe, I’d started using crutches.
Two years went by, then, one day, I was chatting to a colleague who’d lost a lot of weight and she told me it was thanks to Slimming World.
That weekend, I looked in the mirror. ‘Enough is enough,’ I thought. The next morning, I rang my sister, Norah. ‘I’m joining Slimming World,’ I said. ‘I need to lose a few pounds myself,’ she replied. ‘I’ll come with you.’ Grateful for her support, I was determined to start immediately, so I found a group that met that night and told Norah I’d pick her up on the way.
Worrying that I might not be able to stick to it, I didn’t tell Owen and the girls. All day I was in a dither, scared everyone would stare at me and I’d make a fool of myself. That evening, I couldn’t stop shaking as I drove us to group. ‘Come on,’ Norah smiled as we pulled up outside the hall. ‘We can do this.’
Hobbling into the hall, I was blown away by the warm welcome we received from the members and the lovely Consultant, Samantha. Just like with Mum, there was no criticism or judgement. As she talked us through Food Optimising, I felt much calmer – like I’d finally found something real that could help me. I felt hopeful, and I clung on to that feeling when I found out I weighed 21st 2½lbs – much more than I’d expected.
Back home, I read my Food Optimising book from cover to cover, decided what I was going to eat that week and made a shopping list. The next morning, I was getting ready to go out when my phone bleeped. It was a text from Samantha. ‘How are you feeling?’ I was so touched she was thinking about me and that spurred me on. I did my shop and stocked the fridge with fresh veg, lean meat and low Syn yogurts.
The following night, I served up that diet cola chicken to the family. Thrilled by their reaction, I felt confident enough to try even more new home-cooked meals, such as spicy chicken jambalaya and a quick salmon stir-fry.
It didn’t take long for me to see results. In the first week, I lost 9½lbs, and by the time we went on holiday two months later, I’d lost over 2½st. Despite being away for three weeks visiting the Niagara Falls, New York and going on a Caribbean cruise, I based my meals on Free Foods and when I came home, I was 10½lbs lighter! Six months later, Gaye took over Samantha’s group and became my new Consultant. With her support, I carried on losing weight, and if the scales got stuck or I gained, she’d help me delve into the reasons and reassure me the next week would be different – and she was always right!
Every time I dropped a dress size, I felt so proud. Then, one day, I was getting out of the shower and as I pulled the towel around me, my eyes filled with tears. For the first time since my teens, I could wrap it all the way around my body! I’d noticed another change, too. My knees and ankles were no longer swollen. In fact, walking now felt so easy, I started going for power walks in my lunch break.
A year after joining Slimming World, I went to see my GP for a check-up – and I was taken off all my medication! My diabetes symptoms had disappeared along with the weight I’d lost, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels were in the healthy range. It was a wonderful moment, and the moments just kept on coming... Last August, I reached my target weight – I weighed less than the amount of weight I’d lost – and, fitting into a size 10, I felt like a completely different woman.
We celebrated by going back to the Caribbean, where I whizzed down the longest ‘at sea’ zip wire in the world. The adrenaline rush was like nothing I’d ever felt. And I took Susannah and Rachael out for a girly day. We had lunch, then hit the shops and on more than one occasion, we all made a beeline for the same top!
Now, I’m brimming with energy. I love going on long walks and tending to my garden – I’ve even bought a hula hoop! I’m in my mid-50s and happier in my skin than I’ve ever been. And the next time the opportunity comes up to join a brass band, I won’t be worrying about fitting into the uniform!
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.